After revealing the subtitle of The Avengers sequel at Comic-Con, it only took a month before Marvel Studios took to their official site to make the official announcement that James Spader, currently starring in NBC’s new hit series The Blacklist, would be playing its titular villain Ultron. There was no seemingly endless series of casting rumors and reports. The news was unexpected and fast, the result of writer and director Joss Whedon having a clear idea early on of what he wanted to do with The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
As a robotic and AI-based villain, Ultron will be significantly different than Loki and his army of alien thugs from The Avengers but that doesn’t make the character any less human, according to everyone in the know.
Speaking with Huffington Post, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige spoke briefly about the casting of James Spader as the titular villain of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, re-confirming what we previously heard from insiders about his face being utilized to help the character emote.
“Well, I think it will be more than a voice role – we’ll be capturing his face and his body to create a whole performance. He’s a very unique and incredibly exciting and unpredictable actor. And Ultron in the comics is a robot, but what’s cool about him in the comics – and certainly how Joss Whedon is interpreting him for the movie – is that he is much more than just a robot. That he’s infused with much character. And I don’t want to say too much, but you can imagine James Spader will be very dynamic in his portrayal of this character.”
Feige continued, laughing, explaining that they didn’t sign Spader just to do a robot voice. The thing about Ultron is that he (it?) is very emotional, so much so that he hates the Avengers and holds a personal grudge against them for reasons that won’t be clear until we see the film since Whedon is crafting a new Ultron origin story different than in the comics.
Although the Ultron design revealed in the teaser reveal for The Avengers: Age of Ultron at San Diego Comic-Con this summer was a near identical version of the character in Marvel Comics, what was shown could be just be part of the design, one step in the design, or a helmet on top of Ultron’s true face. Spader previously talked about having to go in for “extensive photographs, head scans, body scans” taken of him so Marvel can design the live-action version of Ultron based on his likeness. Whedon also told Marvel a little about how and why Spader was the obvious choice.
“Spader was my first and only choice. He’s got that hypnotic voice that can be eerily calm and compelling, but he’s also very human and humorous. Ultron is not Hal. Spader can play all of the levels. He’s the guy to break The Avengers into pieces.”
Marvel fans may have caught a glimpse of the leaked animatics (see below for image) from The Avengers which revealed original, alternate scenes between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his assistant AI JARVIS (Paul Bettany) where a darker side of JARVIS is revealed as he discusses the perfect being, an artificial design with a human face, showing an aggressive tone and positioning himself as being seemingly better than The Avengers.
Clearly this was Whedon thinking ahead (since he had the Ultron idea in mind back then) but the scenes were too foreboding and out of place for the first film since in the comics Ultron does take control of JARVIS although he’s a human butler in the books. Like the character of Wasp, this particular plot thread was dropped completely for the film, but like the Avengers 2 teaser reveal suggests, Ultron has something to do with Iron Man (or at least his tech and armor) and maybe a little something to do with magic.
As for Spader’s performance, we’re curious as to whether or not he’ll be acting on set against Earth’s Mightiest in a motion capture suit or some hybrid of armor pieces and motion capture equipment a la Iron Man, or if he’ll be doing it in studio and having it inserted later as CGI like Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk.
The fact that Spader’s face will be used, and from what was shown in The Avengers storyboards of crazed JARVIS, could Whedon be setting up for the introduction of Vision, the android Avenger?
Thor: The Dark World on November 8, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014, The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 31, 2015, and unannounced films for May 6 2016, July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.
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